I have written this story several times in my head over the past 3 weeks. Sometimes it is defensive. Sometimes it is sarcastic. It is often angry. I've not written much because to keep writing as though nothing has happened rings false, though there are many other things going on that I could write about. And I've not written it until it has reached a semi-colon of sorts, though it is probably far from over. I am writing it now.
I was standing in my kitchen, wearing my new pretty apron that I was going to tell you all about actually, because I love it so, and making a cheesecake crust to take for dessert to my in-laws that evening. The Baby had been playing just outside the front door with the Boy and the Girl, but they had gone around the corner to the playground for a while so I had brought her inside, and she was standing in the kitchen begging for scraps. (I'll mention again for the record that we live in a gated community and the little play area is 12 steps from my front door. I dash out every couple of minutes to stand and look for a second and make sure they are still within their boundaries and they are okay. We've trained them extensively on what to do in certain situations and I give them this little bit of freedom to play together outside near the house.)
A woman knocked on my open door. A social worker. She was investigating allegations of neglect. Someone called to report that my children are naked and unsupervised and go without shoes in the winter. I asked her if she was sure she had the right house. I've written before about the children who play in our neighborhood, the kids who come to our house to play who's parents I've never even seen. I've written before about how I think they come to us because I'm home, I'm always here, and I watch out for them. I give the moms of latchkey kids my phone number and make sure they know where I live and that it's okay with them if their children are in my house while they're not home. I also tell them that their kids are welcome anytime that I'm home, and I've on more than one occasion fed them dinner and helped them with their home work. That's how I roll. How could anyone possibly think that my children are neglected?
She checked my number again and said, "No, this is the number I was given."
At this point, details might be boring for some, and very interesting to those in similar positions. I can't decide how much to go into.
I didn't let her in. I spoke to her outside. I denied the allegations. When she started asking leading and emotionally loaded questions that had nothing to do with the allegations, "When you and your husband fight does he ever hit you?" "Do you ever spank your children?" (Whether we do or not, it is not illegal by the way.) I told her I would be contacting my lawyer before I answered any of her other questions. She left. But not without informing me that she would return with a police officer if I took too long to contact her, or failed to comply. Coercive and threatening.
Chris Klicka is senior council for the Home School Legal Defense Association. They spend a lot of time defending home school families from legal misunderstandings and government agencies that don't understand all of the ins and outs of legal precedents regarding homeschooling families, and the rights of parents in general. I think I would kiss him if I ever met him in person. If that wouldn't be totally wrong for a married mother of 3 to do to a married father of 7. Before I talked to him I was, well, terrified. On my doorstep was a woman who had the authority to take away my children, and who was predisposed to assume my guilt in the matter. I felt dizzy, there was buzzing in my ears and it felt like the top half of my head kept trying to float away from the rest of me while I tried to suppress tears and think, just think, what do I do. He was very reassuring, said I did the right thing, and began to explain the process to me.
The social worker has her protocols to fulfill he said. She will do what she can to fulfill them, that's her job. On our side we still have the 4th amendment to the constitution, protecting us and our property from unlawful entry and seizure. Unless she can convince a lawyer to convince a judge to find probable cause and issue a warrant, we don't have to talk to her or let her in. We started gathering letters from friends and neighbors willing to testify to our competence and attention as parents. We started faxing them to her to fill her file on us.
The fact that we homeschool gives us and advantage here. You see, a social worker does not require a parents permission to enter a school and privately interview children without a parents knowledge or consent, or a preschool, or a daycare. We kept our kids close.
But here is the problem. Or here was the problem anyway. Something I have not yet told you all is that the Genius Husband at the start of this year began the application process for local law enforcement. He has passed all of the tests, written and physical, that he has done so far with flying colors. One week prior to this he had begun the background investigation process with two different departments. They won't proceed with a background check while there is an open CPS case pending on an applicant. If we follow our lawyers advice and tell the social worker to leave us alone, it looks bad on her report and that leaves a cloud of suspicion hanging over my husband's career. The case may never actually be closed, and he may never get through the background investigation. (Prior to this by the way he has a virtually spotless record, a few speeding tickets...late on taxes once or twice, but nothing major.)
So we swallow our indignation, our wounded pride, our fear that our carefully chosen and thought out parenting practises will be misinterpreted, such as co-sleeping, not vaccinating on schedule, letting our children dress themselves, even if they look silly and unkempt when they do, not to mention the way we discipline, and the fact that our 6 year old still wets the bed, which some people still mistakenly believe is a sign of psychological trauma. We swallow our desire to scream and leave the country with our children right now rather than let anyone, however well intentioned get their hands on them. We call and make an appointment with the social worker for an interview.
Here's the thing. They don't just go away once they realize that the call is unfounded. Oh no. They have a protocol to satisfy. In about 3 minutes we had dealt with the actual allegations. Are our children naked? No, but sometimes the Boy takes off his shirt when it's hot outside, don't all boys? Sometimes the baby only wears a diaper out front or I'll carry her in the sling in just a diaper when she's just woken up. She's a BABY. We live in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA where it's very rarely cold.
Do they go barefoot? Hell yeah. They were born in Canada. We live in a gated community and there is a great maintenance and landscaping staff and I've never seen glass lying around, the sidewalks are always swept clean, I deem it a safe place to go without shoes. I make them wear shoes when we leave the complex, but I don't fight the shoe battle every day. I have other battles to focus on, like kindness and character. And may I mention once more that it's Southern California and it's not cold. Maybe if you grew up in Mexico it is, but it isn't if you grew up with snow on the ground 6 months out of the year.
After we settled the fact that the call was unfounded they still want to look in our house, make sure there's enough food, ask us about discipline, domestic violence, etc. They aren't done until they've invaded every aspect of our privacy looking for signs of "abuse". We let them talk to our children, and ask them confusing and irrelevant questions. She didn't even have the right picture for asking boys if anyone has touched their privates. She royally botched that question and had the Boy backing away from her in confusion as he thought she was asking him to show her his penis. Real smooth.
In the end we went through that for nothing. The social worker told the GH's back ground investigator that she thought we were deceitful and misleading in response to some of her questions, when I was personally uncomfortable with the degree of honesty we were answering her with. The GH is usually honest to a fault, and was in this case as well. If our best efforts at being honest are so poorly received there is little we can do. His application is concluded at one place, and on hold in the other, mostly due to the social worker's report, and the discomfort it causes his background investigators. It is not likely that he will ever be able to pursue a career in law enforcement now. We are not willing to ever put ourselves through that kind of scrutiny again, and even if we do there is no guarantee that the result of a second go round would be any more favorable towards us, or his career.
This little bit on our families record also has implications for my future hopes of adopting and opening up our home for foster care.
We are reevaluating everything right now.
We are wondering if we need to move to avoid a second call.
I wonder if I should keep blogging, quasi-anonymously, in case they find this somehow.
We are reluctant to follow through with the appointment with the new pediatrician in case he interprets our vaccinations choices as medical neglect and calls CPS on us again which adds two calls to our record. Every call builds up and increases the risk of us losing our children. Especially calls from medical professionals.
Maybe the fact that there are so many children who aren't mine, who are truly unattended but at my house, made someone who is truly concerned think that they live here, and give my address regarding someone else's children?
It's possible that the casual observer wouldn't see me watching from in the house, especially when the sun is high and I'm standing in the shadows. Or wouldn't see me from where I stand to check the play ground. I would hope no one would use casual observation as grounds for a CPS hot line call, but I am learning otherwise.
The people in the leasing office tell us that as more families move in with small children the longer time residents are complaining more often about kids and noise. Maybe it was a crotchety old person. And they chose to pick on us because the kids are visible and we live so close to the play area.
I try hard to believe that whoever called had my children's best interests at heart. But I find it difficult. We had very warm weather for a few weeks, so why would someone wait to call about no shoes in cold weather until then? Why after more than two years of living here, parenting the same as we always have, would someone call now, one week into the GH's back ground investigation and effectively put an end to his career?
I am angry. I am sad. I am frustrated. I am tired of feeling suspicious towards my neighbors. I strongly doubt it was someone who actually knows us or has been around us.
One really great thing that has come out of this is the letters written for us by our friends and neighbors. I've cried a few times reading them they are so kind, and affirming, and supportive, and much appreciated, both in their willingness to get involved and because they counter act this crushing blow to my parental self esteem. Thank-you to everyone who was kind enough to write a letter. It's pretty embarrassing having to call people and ask if they'd be willing to testify to your fitness as a parent, and then have to explain why. But everyone responded with overwhelming support and commiseration.
And now, if you have followed all the way to the end would you all do something for me, and for yourselves as parents? As the government continues to be more involved in every stage of child rearing and continues to take more authority away from parents, there is a grass roots movement growing to introduce another amendment to the constitution that specifically protects the rights of parents, and keeps the power to make decisions in the best interests of our children in the hands of those who care about them most, their parents. And not in the hands of a bureaucrat or elected official that I didn't vote for setting policy for their education, health and moral instruction. The movement is simply called parentalrights.org
Please click over there, read what they have to say, and if you agree, sign the petition to protect parental rights as they exist right now, before they are taken away.
I can now tell you from experience that it is an absolutely awful feeling to have your parenting called into question by the authorities. Even when you are confident that you are not a bad parent.
Disclaimer-I realize that people who go into social work usually do it because they want to do some good for children. I realize that their system is in place to protect children who may be abused. I have little bad to say about the social worker we dealt with. She's just trying to do her job. She has to investigate every call. She was polite. I don't understand why she so strongly misunderstood us. But what fewer people realize is that it is a flawed system and that the right of parents are continuously challenged by it. CPS is not above the law, though they often believe they are.